The beautiful Honda CB4 concept bike was unveiled at the EICMA show in Milan in 2015, and it featured a combination of retro, naked and street fighter design elements. At EICMA last year, the Neo Sports Café project bike was revealed, and it carried over some of the CB4’s aesthetic details: the single-sided swingarm with the licence plate and mud guard mounted directly to it, predominantly metal finishes in black and satin silver, and the single round headlight with futuristic lighting elements within. It looked almost production-ready, because it was, and the final production version is the 2018 CB1000R you see here.
The Neo Sports Café project and the production CB1000R are remarkably similar, and Honda did a great job in making this vision a reality. In the past, naked sport bikes would often not have made the trip across the ocean to grace North America, but the CB braved the stormy waters and is available at your local Honda dealer for $14,999.
Is it quick?
Fortunately, Honda’s vision for the bike includes high performance to go along with the stunning aesthetics, and that performance starts with a potent 998 cc inline four. Derived from the engine found in the CBR1000RR Superbike, the CB engine is typically described as a “de-tuned” or “more user-friendly” version of the Superbike mill; this is technically accurate but does not give enough credit to how much punch this motor has, and in all the right places.
Yes, it makes less peak horsepower than the CBR1000RR, and yes, it is nice and docile in the lower rev ranges for ease of use in traffic or when you just don’t feel like pulling the skin off your face. However, if you really want to get to the horizon right now, the CB rips down the asphalt with all the sound and fury you could ever wish for. In typical inline four fashion, it is creamy-smooth and easy revving, and the fuelling is ideal. The throttle response is quite sharp, but with no snatchy-ness, even in “sport” mode, which is a remarkable balancing act and one not often successfully executed.
That “sport” mode is accompanied by a “street”, “rain”, and “user” mode, all accessed through menu and scroll buttons on the left handlebar. These modes control the amount of available power, engine braking, and traction control intervention (three levels each), with the “user” mode allowing customization of each under a separate pre-set.
What about those gauges?
Information is provided through a stylish LCD dashboard that is small but easy to read. The left side of the display features a round tach and fuel gauge surrounded by a raised silver bezel, and the clear cover over the LCD is debossed in the middle of the tach to highlight the gear indicator located there – simple but modern accents that add interest compared to a simple flat panel. The rest of the dash is packed with speed, riding modes, indicators for each of the three adjustable engine control variables, odometer/trip metres, temperature, time, and fuel efficiency information. The tach, gear indicator and speedometer are large and immediately easy to read, while the rest of the information can be a little confusing at first, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Below the LCD are the usual warning lights and a neutral indicator, and on the upper right side is a large, multi-coloured light that can be programmed as a shift light, efficiency indicator, or ride mode indicator, although it is only really useful as a shift light.
All this is mounted to the headlight bezel via large, silver-plated Torx bolts in a pivoting assembly that would not look out of place as part of the suspension of an exotic car or a robotic arm. The designers did their best to avoid plastic parts wherever possible, such as the airbox side covers and radiator surround, and combined with well-finished, exposed hardware, the overall effect is brilliant. Offering the bike in Black Graphite only highlights the black and silver motif, and it would be a bit of a shame if future model years offer more colour combinations. This bike should be offered in any colour you wish, as long as it’s black.
What’s with that pipe on the right?
Elf and Honda may have brought the single-sided swingarm to racing, but British motorcycle customizers made it popular with the ‘90s Street Fighter crowd. So is the single-sided swinger on the CB1000R part of the RC30/VFR branch of the Honda family tree, or a nod to the Spondon and Harris specials of the 1990s?
Either way, it is an attractive piece spoiled only by the muffler mounted on the right side, as Honda has previously been known to do with the Hawk GT and VFRs, due to space constraints. The RC30 had its muffler on the left side, allowing for quick wheel changes during endurance racing, and exposing the beautifully bare right side of the wheel. However, the stock RC30 exhaust piping required a large kink, with a decrease in pipe cross-section (and presumably a decrease in power potential), in order to clear the bottom of the suspension linkage. On the bright side, the muffler on the CB that blocks the full view of the rear wheel is substantially better looking than the unit on the previous-generation CB1000R.
Mounted directly to the swingarm is the licence plate and mud guard assembly, as on the original CB4 concept, which allows for a very clean and stubby tail section in the café racer/street fighter style. The CB4’s faux-third-exhaust tail light is reimagined on the CB1000R as a semi-circle, flanked by clean, rectangular turn signals with clear lenses. Up front, what might look like a single round headlight is actually two horizontal arrays of LEDs sandwiching a Honda logo, all surrounded by a circular “angel eye” running light. All these elements together form a refined, modern and muscular look not seen in previous generations of the CB1000R.
Yeah, yeah – how is it to ride?
So if you like the retro-modern machine-as-art aesthetic, this bike definitely hits the right buttons, but how does it ride? To start, the seating position is decidedly “sport”, with a high seat and high pegs, but with a taller handlebar than its Superbike cousins. The steering is quick, immediate, responsive, sharp – pick your cliché descriptor – made possible by the steep-ish rake combined with wide bars.
Like the throttle response, the fully adjustable suspension is very well sorted and handles broken pavement with little to no harshness, but remains solid when pushed in the corners. Showa’s Separate Function-Big Piston fork can take some credit for the sophisticated ride, with the combination of separating damping and spring forces between the two legs (Separate Function), and the use of a large-diameter damping piston allowing for finer damping control (Big Piston).
The brakes are very strong, but are a little mushy at the lever, even though feel is good, which will be needed when exploring the upper reaches of the engine’s rev range. Power down low is easily manageable and the mid-range builds strongly but predictably, and then the engine sings toward redline with a melodious wail and only a hint of vibration through the bars.
The bike features a fly-by-wire throttle system not found on previous versions. This is an upgrade that not only allows for the configurable riding modes, but is also the secret behind the superb throttle response. Many, if not most, bikes with programmable riding modes do not feel happy in full sport mode during casual or commute riding, but with the CB1000R you can leave it in sport all day long and not feel like you’re trying to restrain a rabid pit bull.
The six-speed box is just as smooth as the motor, and is equipped with a slipper clutch to tame any downshifting drama. A quick shifter would be nice with an engine that revs as freely as this (and it’s an option in other markets but not available in Canada), because the bike is geared low, with closely-spaced ratios, so there’s a lot of shifting to be done if you’re riding hard. That low gearing combined with the litrebike mill would normally be a recipe for wheelies all day long, but the traction-control system includes wheelie control to keep the front end in check. Unlike the ABS, the traction control is defeatable for those inclined to wheelie all day long, after all.
Longer rides and highway cruising is surprisingly comfortable, with the headlight and dash somehow providing a small degree of wind protection. The tank is quite wide at the front, but it tapers with generous side scallops for the rider’s legs, which also allows the front section of the seat to be comfortably narrow. The wider rear area of the seat gives good butt support, with a smooth transition to the small passenger perch, a result of that stubby tail design. Should you want to put a (brave) passenger back there, the preload, rebound and compression adjustments available at both ends will allow for proper suspension set-up to compensate for the extra weight.
Out of the box, the CB1000R looks very much like the show bikes that preceded it, or like a custom resto-mod from a small bike builder, with details not found on production bikes of the recent past. But this one comes a full warranty and Honda’s well-known factory fit, finish, and reliability, and considerable performance to back up the brawny looks.
Now that the North American market has begun to embrace the naked bike, Big Red has brought in beauty and the beast, all in one package.
2018 Honda CB1000R Key Specs
Engine: 998 cc inline four
Curb weight: 212 kg
Wheelbase: 1455 mm
Length: 2120 mm
Seat height: 830 mm
Brakes: Dual 320 mm discs with radial-mounted monobloc calipers front, single 256 mm disc rear, ABS equipped
Front suspension: SFF-BP inverted Showa fork, fully adjustable, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: Showa BRFC single shock, fully adjustable, 130 mm travel
Tires: 120/70ZR17 front, 190/55ZR17 rear